7 tips for avoiding new Medicare card tricksters: Internet Scambusters #777
New Medicare cards and numbers will be issued to 57 million Americans in the coming 18 months as part of an attempt to cut Social Security number identity theft.
But, although the cards will be free and automatically issued, scammers are trying to trick people into paying for them or giving away confidential information.
In this week's issue, we'll tell you what the crooks are up to and how to avoid their nasty tricks.
Now, here we go...
Crooks Ramping Up New Medicare Card Scam
It was probably a bad idea from the start -- putting people's Social Security numbers (SSNs) on their Medicare cards. It just gave identity thieves a helping hand.
But all of that is about to change over the next 18 months with the launch of a new numbering system and a new look.
Under the current system, SSNs and Medicare numbers are more or less the same, meaning if someone discovers your Medicare number, they also know your SSN.
But the new system will see the introduction of 57 million Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI) 11-character numbers -- each one generated randomly and unique.
The new cards will be different from the old ones, but not in a big way. Check out an example of the new card.
"Having your Social Security number removed from your Medicare card helps fight medical identity theft and protects your medical and financial information," says the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The cards will be issued between April 2018 and April 2019 and you don't have to do anything to get one.
The reason it's important to know this is because scammers are already active, contacting potential victims with all sorts of stories, trying to convince them they have to pay or hand over confidential information to get their new number and card.
As awareness about the new cards grows in the coming months, ahead of the mail-out, we can expect to see the tricksters out in force.
They'll usually say they need your current Medicare number (that is, your Social Security number) before they issue the new card. And their main weapon will be a threat that you'll lose your Medicare benefits if you refuse to give them information.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid the scammers:
- Medicare won't phone or email you about the new card, so if you get a call, it's almost certainly a scam. On the rare occasions that they make customer service calls, they never ask for confidential information.
- The cards are free, so anyone asking you to pay is a scammer.
- Medicare never asks for your Social Security number and, when the new cards are issued, they won't be asking you for your MBI either. They already have it!
- There won't be any changes to your Medicare benefits as a result of issuing the new number and you don't have to do anything to "activate" your new card. Anyone saying you need to take certain actions to remain covered is a scammer.
- Watch out for fake websites offering to issue new cards or help you secure your card. As we said, you don't need to apply. But if you want to check any Medicare questions online, the only site to use is www.cms.gov
- Be particularly alert if you're not yet in Medicare but expect to enroll during the interim period. When you submit your application, it's possible Medicare will contact you but they normally do this by letter. If someone phones, carefully check their identity -- don't take their word that they're who they say they are.
- The cards can be used as soon as you get yours -- it will come with instructions. However, it's not clear whether all Medicare service providers will be equipped to use the MBI at the outset. They may ask you for your old, SSN-based number -- but usually only in the payment office.
Of course, once you have your new card, it's still vulnerable to scammers, especially those involved in medical identity theft. So, keep it safe.
One other important thing to know: During the transition period, you can use either the old-style number or the new MBI.
More Medicare and Social Security Scams
While we're on the subject, there's just time to alert you to a couple of other Social Security and Medicare scams that are currently doing the rounds.
Calls about benefit raises: Scammers are currently calling Social Security recipients, mainly from a 323 (California) area code, saying they're entitled to a 1.7% cost of living adjustment.
It's a phishing trick. The scammer requests confidential information they can use for identity theft. In particular, they ask for parents' names -- commonly used in sign-on security checks.
They pretend they need to "verify" your information for security purposes.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't phone people about raises. It sends letters. And they never ask for this type of information over the phone.
Hang up! And report it to the SSA hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
Calls About Medical Equipment: Scammers are making random calls pretending to be from Medicare.
They say they're following up on an inquiry about help for a back complaint -- one of the most common health problems, so it's a good chance for the scammer to score a hit.
The good news is, they say, that the victim is entitled to a back brace, paid for by Medicare.
It's not clear whether this is a phony telesales operation or another phishing scam.
Don't fall for this. If you happen to have a request in for Medicare help over any health issue, get the caller's name and phone number and then call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 to check them out.
NOTE: When you initiate a call to Medicare, they may ask for your Medicare card number.
Alert of the Week
The Equifax data breach scam, which we wrote about a few weeks ago, has sparked a nasty phishing scam to be on the lookout for.
Crooks are making random phone calls claiming to be from Equifax and offering to provide credit monitoring services.
They may be just trying to sell fake services or they may say the service is free but ask for confidential information.
Equifax isn't making these types of calls to victims. It's a scam. If you want to find out more about the data breach and how to get monitoring services, see our earlier issue: What to Do About the Equifax Data Breach.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.